If you are a backpacker or long term traveler, you have no doubt stayed in at least one hostel during your trips abroad, considering cheap accommodation is like a commandment. You have probably also had at least one friend or relative back home ask “What’s a hostel?” You try to do the hostel world justice… to explain how great they can be, how much money you will save, how many awesome people you will meet. Try as you might, the majority of people back home just won’t “get it.” “Hostels are just not for them,” they say and off they go, back to their hotels that cost 3 or 4 times as much.
We are the enlightened ones; the ones that can find a bed in nearly any city in the world for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. We can travel for months instead of weeks and have off the beaten track adventures with new friends from every inch of the globe all because of those wonderful little backpacker sanctuaries – hostels. You pity the poor vacation traveler who is blowing $100+ on a hotel every night while you sleep down the street for a few bucks.
Hostels are an awesome discovery for new travelers but let’s be honest for a minute… they can get old real fast. Nosy drunk roommates? A guy who smells like he has been hiking up the Amazon for months? Stay in enough hostels and you will no doubt end up with at least one horror story. So what’s a traveler on a budget supposed to do when they need a break from the hostels?
Friend of a Friend
The world is an incredibly small place, especially if you are looking for a place to crash when visiting a new city. Trust me, someone you know knows someone who knows someone who lives there. This is especially true for the major cities of the world.
It might seem weird to invade a strangers home but good hospitality is a common trait among the world’s travelers. In my travels, I have met people from over a dozen countries and even though we might have only hung out at a hostel together or did a bit of sightseeing, I know for a fact that they will help me if and when I end up in their hometown. Finding a friend of a friend to stay with isn’t always easy and you will have to put yourself out there but you should still give it a try. Post to your Facebook wall or ask on Twitter is anyone lives where you are heading or knows anyone who might be able to put you up for a few days. If not a place to sleep, you will at least be able to get some local advice and maybe a free local tour guide.
Crash on the Couch
Would you believe that thousands of people around the world open their homes for free to travelers, just for the experience of meeting new people and the satisfaction of helping out someone new to their city? Yep, locals that want you to stay with them for free!
Couchsurfing is a great site for backpackers looking for a local connection. You can find people offering up their homes, couches, and their local inside knowledge. The only thing the community asks of you is that you try your best to help travelers coming to your hometown. Now keep in mind, you are a guest in their homes. The cheap accommodation might not be up to par with the local hostels (i.e. uncomfortable fold out couches) and there is no one here to clean up after you (so do the dishes!). That being said, staying for free with definitely help stretch the travel budget.
Rent a Room or a Whole House
There is something to be said for being a paying guest – you get what you pay for. In the cases above, you’ll no doubt be saving a few dollars but forget about the fancy hotel soaps or the guaranteed free wifi of most hostels. It can also be a bit awkward if you are just looking for a place to crash and end up staying with a local host that insists on taking you to every lame tourist trap in town.
So where do you find the balance… affordable, local insider knowledge, not a rowdy hostel? Start looking into renting a local house or even just a room. Websites are popping up everywhere offering this new “alternative accommodation” – not quite a hotel or hostel but with local insider appeal. People offer up their whole homes (when they are out of town or on vacation) or just a room in their homes to travelers for prices somewhere above the cost of an average hostel but still cheaper than most hotels. It’s a great option if you are traveling in a group (price will be less than individual hotel rooms) or if you want a local experience without feeling like you are inconveniencing a random stranger.
You’re a paying guest – meaning the comforts of the hotels (clean towels) but you can still grab lunch with your host and ask them what you should see and do when you are in town.
Hostels are great for meeting other travelers, hotels give you the lovely comforts of home, but if you are looking for a true insider, local experience you’re going to need to break out of the backpacker trail and go local.